Sandhill cranes are one of Earth's oldest living bird species, still nearly identical to ancestors that lived millions of years ago. This long history has offered plenty of time to clash with alligators, which have also barely changed in about 8 million years.
And as the video above shows, sandhill cranes can be surprisingly assertive with these ancient enemies. It's rarely smart for almost any animal to confront an adult alligator, but thanks to finely tuned instincts, this crane knew what it was doing.
The video was shot last week by Greg Shine, who works at Eagle Marsh Golf Club in Jensen Beach, Florida. Shine saw the alligator amble from a nearby marsh, according to Tampa Bay's Fox 13 News, and onto the practice green about 20 feet away from him. As it continued toward the driving range, Shine followed and filmed it.
Meanwhile, a pair of Florida sandhill cranes with two chicks stood nearby. (Florida sandhills are a subspecies that lives in Florida year-round; the broader species only migrates there from October to March.) Sandhill cranes typically mate for life, raising one brood per year and defending it vigorously. In Shine's video, one of the parents walks up to the gator, spreads its wings and dutifully herds the threat away.
An adult sandhill crane and chick in Lake Wales, Florida. (Photo: Lawrence Crovo/Flickr)
This is how sandhill cranes normally repel predators on land, and as Earth Touch's Ethan Shaw points out, they may also take further steps like hissing or kicking. But simply strutting with open wings seems to work pretty often, even against big, powerful predators like alligators or black bears. In some cases, a sandhill can achieve this effect just by confidently approaching a potential troublemaker.
This alligator played it cool, and might not have planned to bother the birds in the first place. Still, with nearby chicks offering an otherwise easy meal, its decision to keep walking suggests it didn't see this as an empty threat. By making the first move — and by getting in this gator's face with such speed and swagger — the parent showed a level of determination that likely wasn't lost on the lumbering reptile.
Sandhill cranes are brave, not stupid, so they generally only do this if their chicks are at risk. They aren't too proud to flee unintimidated gators, although as another recent video shows, they may also try to keep their composure as they retreat:
Alligators are common in marshy habitats across Florida, including many developed areas like golf courses, parks and neighborhoods. But while they can pose a threat to people in certain situations, they'd usually prefer to play through. Sometimes they just need a nudge from someone who knows how to push their buttons.